Which is Best? Managed vs. Unmanaged PoE Switches

March 22nd, 2015

In most deployments of products such as Hosted PBX and Unified Communications, the service will require Power over Ethernet (PoE) functionality to connect and power IP endpoints. If you’re researching PoE switches, you’ve probably noticed that there are typically two varieties: managed and unmanaged. Both have their place, and offer big differences in price and functionality.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s do a primer on PoE. TechTarget’s handy Essential Guide defines PoE as:

A technology for wired Ethernet LANs (local area networks) that allows the electrical current necessary for the operation of each device to be carried by the data cables rather than by power cords. Doing so minimizes the number of wires that must be strung in order to install the network.

Functionally, PoE brings many advantages to an installation, including:

Flexibility – Without being tethered to an electrical outlet, devices can be located just about anywhere and are easily moveable. This is ideal for small-space limitations.

Reliability – Since PoE power comes from a central source and separate from the data signal, there is no interference and can be backed-up by an uninterruptible power supply.

Protection – Fault protection with PoE shuts off the power supply if excessive current or a short circuit is detected to protect network equipment.

Choosing Between Managed and Unmanaged Switches

If a PoE switch is complementary to a customer’s environment, the next step is deciding between managed and unmanaged options. The first thing you probably notice is the price difference – an unmanaged PoE switch is considerably less expensive. But does it give you enough functionality to successfully deploy VoIP services?

First, let’s examine unmanaged PoE switches. These basic devices simply allow you to provide power and signaling to Ethernet endpoints such as an IP phone. While these devices are plug-and-play, they probably don’t give you the functionality you need to successfully support business customers.

Managed PoE switches, on the other hand, offer much more control over voice and data traffic. Most critically, they allow you to configure and manage virtual LANs (VLANs), giving you the ability to segregate high priority VoIP traffic over more routine data traffic. Related features most managed switches offer include:

  • Class-based queuing
  • Prioritization on IP and port
  • Prioritization on VoIP protocol
  • Traffic shaping
  • Call Admission Control
  • Upstream, downstream bandwidth management

Managed switches also have the benefit of using protocols such as Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) for networking monitoring. By choosing an appliance with SNMP, technicians have remote access to LAN devices, leading to quicker detection of issues and faster remediation.

So if you’re deploying VoIP services for your critical business customers, a managed PoE switch is probably the way to go. It gives you greater control over the prioritization of voice traffic across the LAN as well as a greater ability to do remote troubleshooting. Yes, they cost a bit more, but the the more robust functionality outweighs the added cost.

Introducing Ribbons’ 2900e PoE

Ribbons’ EdgeMarc 2900e PoE device integrates 12 managed PoE ports with session border controller functionality to provide an all-in-one solution for small office implementations. These future-proof devices were designed to support today’s bandwidth needs with dual 1Gb/s Ethernet and optical fiber connections. The EdgeMarc 2900 PoE is a single box solution - speeding installations and giving you less SKUs to manage. Plus, the single user interface for configuration makes the process from install to management just a click away.

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